What our colleagues say about us

Julia Villalobos, Manager

Can we discuss your successes in the last year and any obstacles you overcame to achieve them?

In the last year my biggest success has been a smooth transition between our San Diego office and Sacramento Office. A major challenge during this process was arriving in the new city and office, and then having COVID-19 disrupt our normal way of life. Staying flexible and finding creative ways to continue to meet client needs has been key to the successful transition in these odd times. I’m looking forward to continuing to get to know the area as things open up and continuing to serve our northern California clients as they themselves are working through their own challenges.

Tell me about your background, Julia.

I started my career in construction when I was 19 – working initially for Knife River Corporation in Oregon. My job was to visit their ready mix and asphalt plants to ensure safety requirements were being met.

After I graduated from Gonzaga University, with a civil engineering degree, I worked for Kiewit in various roles. I gained experience as an estimator, superintendent, design manager and project engineer – much of this work was in the heavy civil and structure sector, which became a real passion for me.

When I moved to San Diego I worked for a small life-science contractor, Cannon Building as a Senior Project Engineer before joining HKA (at the time, Hill International).

What inspires you in your job?

For me, it’s the ability to help our clients overcome major project hurdles. I am passionate about what I do because often the analysis I perform is the first time the project team is getting a magnitude of their damages or delays due to a given issue.

It is rewarding to suggest new options for project teams to consider that will ultimately let them focus on what is important—getting back to building work.

Describe a typical day in your role.

I spend most of my time getting into the nitty-gritty details on a project. Cost records, schedules, and existing correspondence are all important documents that I spend considerable time evaluating.

While I primarily work remotely, I do travel at times to meet with project teams or attorneys. Each project is unique and I adjust as needed to meet those specific needs.

In between this, I try to find at least some time each day for professional development. This may involve attending training sessions or simply reading industry articles to stay up-to-date. A benefit to my role is that I also get to work closely with junior staff to help with their training.

What do you think has been the reason for your success?

I think part of it can be attributed to staying positive. In an industry where you are working with projects that have significant challenges this can be especially important. There are lots of consultants that are extremely capable and competent when it comes to claims, but a can-do, solution-oriented, positive attitude definitely sets one consultant apart from another.

On a more personal level as to my success, I try to say yes to as many opportunities as I can. This, coupled with a focus on excellence, has helped me in my career.

What made you make from the move from contractors to claims?

I was on a large bridge project that was significantly delayed. At the time I was working as the Design Manager and became deeply involved with the efforts to assemble the claim during the project. I was able to gain exposure to a multi-million-dollar dispute that was successfully negotiated while the project was ongoing. It was great experience that lead me to develop a real interest in the industry.

A benefit to the consulting industry is that you get to help many more projects in a given year. Working on several projects at the same time brings variety and allows me to apply successful strategies from past projects to a current project’s challenges.

Are there any qualifications or types of experience that have significantly helped you in your role at HKA?

Certainly having had a variety of field experience helps me understand what clients are going through. I am not a consultant with a strictly academic background and I think that is helpful, especially in the construction industry. Having a technical background has also helped me because I can do either design or construction – this flexibility has been invaluable.

I always recommend to younger people looking to get into the business to get their PE license or other applicable licensure EARLY. It will be much easier and it will be an essential tool if you are looking to make the move to our industry!

What is also really important is to make time to read about the industry and keep up to date on new developments. I try for an article a day. It does not take much time and improves your awareness of what is going on in the market.

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